For the first three months of their life, newborns really just wish they were back in your belly… here are five ways to recreate the ‘womb world’ for your brand-new bubba
The fourth trimester, on the face of it a slightly contradictory term, refers to babies’ first three months outside of the womb, when the world is brand-new to them. Humans are the least neurologically developed of any primate at birth – foals can stumble around a field on the same day they’re born, but it will take a baby most of their first year to get close to the same milestone.
For a long time it was assumed that because human beings have large brains, babies’ heads are physically large relative to an adult woman’s hips – which are narrow because we’ve evolved to walk upright. So babies have to leave the cosy womb at the nine-month point because they wouldn’t fit through if they came any later (and even then it’s, er, something of a squeeze, to say the least). There is also a theory that women’s bodies simply can’t sustain a baby of full-term size any longer. (Can you imagine the heartburn if we did have to?)
The key to understanding the ‘fourth trimester’ is seeing the world through your baby’s eyes. Immediately after birth comes a huge period of adjustment for both mother and baby. So one of the best birthday presents you can give your little one is to care for them by recreating the atmosphere of your womb, to mitigate the harsh reality of the world they've been born into. Here are five fourth-trimester treats that will help your newborn to thrive.
1. Feeding on demand
Your newborn has spent nine months having their every need attended to. Before birth, they never felt hunger or thirst, as they simply consumed amniotic fluid, which was also flavoured with whatever yummy thing you had just eaten, helping to establish their future tastes. After birth, that new feeling of hunger in their little tummies is overwhelming and newborns truly cannot wait to be fed. It’s worth trying to tune into their early feeding cues, such as poking out their tongues or turning their heads towards you when held; if you observe these, they won’t have to do the ‘hunger cry’ – which is pretty unmistakeable. It might be useful to read our advice for getting started with breastfeeding.
2. Cuddling and swaddling
During pregnancy, your little one was living in a permanent hug inside you. As far as they were concerned, they were always held close right beside their mama’s heart; and by the end of pregnancy, there wasn’t a lot of space to move their limbs. Once they enter the world, that protective hug is gone and they experience a huge sense of space for the first time. The Moro reflex, in which new babies throw their arms out suddenly as if startled, is a normal and healthy response to this change in their environment. But it can disturb their sleep patterns. Swaddling newborn babies can help them feel more secure. As, of course, can simply being held in your arms. Check out our at-a-glance tips for swaddling your baby.
3. Warm and comfy clothes
In your tummy, your baby was always warm, completely comfortable – and totally naked. Feeling the cold – and the sensation of having their nappy changed and their clothes put on and taken off – is new and baffling to your newborn. It can help to be aware of the fact that some sensitive babies will particularly mind feeling chilly when you dress and undress them, or they may be very sensitive to the sensation of cloth against their skin. Some babies don’t like having vests put over their heads, so side-fastening babygrows may be easier for both of you. Most newborn clothes are super-soft; if your baby has eczema or is particularly sensitive, you could cut out any labels, or try a hypoallergenic brand. See our article on caring for your new baby's skin.
4. White noise
Babies can hear sounds from 18 weeks gestation and will respond to noises from outside the womb (such as yours and your partner’s voice) by around 25 weeks. But although they have already heard sounds from the outside world, it would always have been muffled by the comforting, ever-present thud of your heartbeat and swish of your blood being pumped around your body. This explains many babies’ fondness for white noise after they are born. Ewan the Dream Sheep is probably the best-known of the noise-producing teddies, but there are also plenty of free apps. And many a baby is soothed by the sound of the household hoover – though we can't guarantee the same for your neighbours in the small hours. We've got lots of sleep tips for newborns.
It’s easy to forget that one of the constants of being in utero is movement. When they’re still inside you, babies will often sleep during the day as you move around, and wake at night when you’re laying in bed – which is also the explanation for how tough it can be to sleep peacefully in late pregnancy. When they arrive earthside, some babies are unsettled by the stillness of a bassinet or Moses basket as they’re so used to the rocking motion of mama’s belly. Slings, swings and bouncy chairs are all worth a try to soothe a baby who likes to be on the go to feel relaxed. Check our advice on buying a crib for your newborn – many of them have gentle rocking features.